County budget approved

NEWTON. About $102.5 million of the $122.8 million budget will be raised in taxes.

Newton /
| 02 Apr 2024 | 10:13

The Sussex County Board of County Commissioners approved a 2024 budget of about $122.8 million at its meeting Wednesday, March 27. It is 0.03 percent more than the 2023 budget.

About $102.5 million will be raised in taxes, up 0.89 percent from a year earlier.

When the budget was introduced Feb. 28, county treasurer Elke Yetter said about 84 percent of revenues come from taxes, with grants providing 3 percent and state aid to Sussex County Community College (SCCC) providing about 2 percent. About 6 percent, or $7.7 million, is from the county’s fund balance.

Of each county dollar spent, 22 percent goes to capital, debt and statutory expenses; 19 percent to public safety; 18 percent to insurance; 13 percent to public works; and 11 percent to education, including SCCC and Sussex County Technical School.

The county’s capital budget is $18.7 million, with about one-third going to facilities and another third to roads and bridges.

At the meeting, the board also approved a capital ordinance appropriating about $7.2 million for capital improvements and acquisition of capital equipment. About $6.3 million will come from the county’s capital improvement fund and $993,427 from the county’s reserve for departmental improvements.

The money will be used for road and bridge improvements; acquisition of technology, radio and communication equipment for the Sheriff’s Department; garage renovation and parking lot paving at the Mosquito Control Facility; library improvements; improvements to communications infrastructure at county offices; improvements to the sewage treatment plant and pump station at Sussex County Technical School; and improvements at various county facilities, including parking deck rehabilitation and roof replacement at the Judicial Center.

In addition, the board approved two bond ordinances:

• A $3.1 million bond ordinance to finance capital improvements in the county. Those include repair or replacement of sewer infrastructure and improvements to roads and bridges.

• A $2.8 million bond ordinance to finance capital improvements at Sussex County Community College (SCCC). Those include capital repairs, paving improvements, classroom improvements, safety improvements and building upgrades.

Resolution on attendance

The commissioners voted, 4-1, for a resolution in support of Assembly Bill A4102, which would allow boards of county commissioners to remove commissioners who miss three consecutive meetings without an excused absence.

Assemblyman Mike Inganamort, R-24, introduced the bill, which is similar to the current requirement for school board members in New Jersey.

“Chronic absenteeism by a commissioner is not just an abuse of the voters’ trust but also terribly unfair to the other members of a Board of County Commissioners who must pick up the slack,” he said.

Commissioner William Hayden, who was censured by the Sussex County board Feb. 14, reportedly missed three of four recent meetings. He voted no on the resolution.

On March 20, Hayden filed a notice of tort claim that a lawsuit may be filed against the other four commissioners, state Sen. Parker Space, Assemblywoman Dawn Fantasia, Inganamort, county Republican Committee chairman Joe Labarbera and others.

It alleges that the board with the assistance of other individuals “engaged in malicious, intentional, willful and reckless conduct” against Hayden that resulted in his censure “in his absence and without cause, proofs or due process of the allegations they used in pursuit thereof.”

Labarbera, who spoke during the public comment section of the March 27 commissioners’ meeting, said the county Republican Committee plans a recall of Hayden.

”I’m here because Bill Hayden is a fraud,” he told the board. “He lied not just to me but to the people of this county.”

Unrelated to the censure vote, Hayden has been accused of lying about serving in the military.

At the meeting, the board also unanimously approved a resolution setting rules of decorum for its meetings. The rules include allowing the meeting chairman to call to order any member of the public making disruptive comments or actions. If that behavior continues, the person may be removed from the meeting.

At the board’s March 13 meeting, Jill Space, the board’s director, ordered a man attending the meeting to leave because of the words on the T-shirt he was wearing.

SCCC board meeting

Commissioner Jack DeGroot reported on the March 26 meeting of the SCCC board of trustees, which he attended as the commissioners’ board liaison.

“It was said that Sussex County Community College looks to be conservative and safe with their money” so it has financial reserves equal to 12 to 13 months of expenses, he said.

”In addition, the college is performing an organizational Culture and Climate Study to better understand workplace culture, areas of strengths and weaknesses of the community college, as well as the atmosphere and overall feeling of being at SCCC.”

The study will include confidential surveys, random interviews and document review.

There also will be a separate senior leadership review, he said.

College officials and trustees have said the studies were prompted by comments of current and former SCCC employees describing examples of intimidation and toxic behavior by the college president, Jon Connolly. The comments were made at the Feb. 27 meeting of the college board of trustees and Feb. 28 meeting of the commissioners’ board.

Dead tree removal

Chris Carney, deputy director of the board, said county workers continue to remove dead and diseased ash and other trees along county roads.

In the program, funded with $450,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, 802 trees have been removed so far. The work is expected to continue for the next several months.

The board approved a $1.4 million contract with Sparwick Contracting for the replacement of the County Route 519 (Wantage Avenue) bridge over Dry Brook tributary in Frankford.